High Court dismisses professional negligence claim against quantity surveyor

The High Court has rejected a claim for professional negligence against a firm of quantity surveyors highlighting the difficulties faced by claimants in proving causation in such cases.

This briefing was first published on the LexisNexis Built Environment blog, who have agreed to Simmons & Simmons making it available to elexica subscribers.

The recent case of Russell v Stone (trading as PSP Consultants) [2019] EWHC 831 (TCC) concerns a professional negligence claim against a firm of quantity surveyors (PSP) in relation to a residential project that was beset with problems. The general thrust of the claim was that PSP’s alleged negligence caused the claimants to spend significantly more on their property than they ought to have done. In particular, it was alleged that PSP failed properly to manage and/or advise on the tender process.

The court held that PSP had not been negligent and, even if it had, the claimants’ case would have failed on the issue of causation. This blog post focuses on the difficulties the claimants faced in proving causation, a common theme in claims against construction professionals.

The court quoted from the judgment in William Clark Partnership Ltd v Dock St PCT Ltd [2015] EWHC 2923 (TCC):

"…establishing causation in construction related professional negligence claims against design professionals such as quantity surveyors and project managers is notoriously difficult precisely because of the difficulty in showing how things would have turned out differently even if the professional had not acted negligently."

There were a number of strands to the claimants’ case on causation, but by the close of the trial, the case came down to the contention that if PSP had properly advised on the inadequacies in the contractor’s tender, the claimants would have taken the opportunity to reconsider or re-evaluate the project. However, as to that, the court commented:

"If the [claimants] would have paused and revisited the project, then there needed to be some articulated and particularised case as to what they would have done and what the outcome would have been on the balance of probabilities. There simply was nothing other than a generalised assertion."

Given that the claimants failed to establish that they would have done something different, the court was left with no point of comparison that would be analogous to the 'true value' of the loss in line with the well-known decision in South Australia Asset Management Corporation v York Montague Ltd [1997] AC 191 (which the claimants relied on).

This case is a reminder of the high level of scrutiny that will be applied by the courts in establishing causation and quantum. Indeed the court warned that 'causation of loss does not follow from a finding of negligence without more'. This is particularly the case in claims against construction professionals, where a considerable amount of legwork is required to demonstrate causation.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.